Our story

Our story

International full-service law firm – our journey to this day

In 1888, Finland was a primarily agrarian autonomous grand duchy of the Russian Empire. The economy was expanding rapidly. Industry was quickly becoming mechanised and business life was both growing and diversifying. These developments created a demand for legal services, particularly in Helsinki, which had become a centre of business life.

This was the landscape in which Castrén & Snellman was founded by Kaarlo Castrén and Frans Emil Snellman on 1 June 1888. Messrs Castrén and Snellman announced that they would represent purely legal cases in all of the country’s upper and lower courts and undertake other assignments in the field at affordable prices. In 1896, Castrén & Snellman was entered into the Trade Register under number 1519.

Castrén & Snellman in the late 19th century 

Castrén & Snellman’s first office was in a one-storey wooden building in the centre of Helsinki. At the time, there were no motor vehicles to be seen, and horses provided the principle means of transport. The firm’s lawyers were nevertheless willing to take on cases outside of Helsinki. In practice, this meant making long trips to the countryside by horse and carriage, even in the bitter winter months.

Our firm has moved offices several times over the years, but has always stayed within a few hundred metres of where it was founded. The central location made it easy for our lawyers to conduct their daily business at the City Court, which was just a short walk away on Senate Square. Around half of our firm’s cases at the time were disputes that were argued before the City Court.

Our firm’s first assignment was handled by Kaarlo Castrén before the City Court of Helsinki on 8 June 1888. He was counsel for the defendant in a postponed procurement dispute that he had to further postpone, because the firm had only been given the case that morning.

Practising law in the years of war

Finland became independent in 1917. Tensions between right-wing and left-wing factions in the young republic erupted as a civil war the next year. Despite the war, Castrén & Snellman persistently continued its business.

Up to the 1920s, the firm handled all kinds of relatively small-scale legal work in Finland. Having established a strong reputation, Castrén & Snellman received significant international assignments, for example, when Esso and General Motors established offices in Finland in the 1930s.

During the Second World War, Finland fought the Winter War and the Continuation War against the Soviet Union. During the war, Partner Martti Olsson kept the firm going while the firm’s other lawyers were at the front.

After the Continuation War, Olsson acted as second defence counsel to President Risto Ryti in the ‘war guilt trial’ in 1945–46. Having an excellent lawyer was not much help to Ryti; the Allied Control Commission had most likely decided the question of guilt in advance, and Ryti was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment.

Major assignments in the 60s and 70s

After the wars, the economy in Finland began to recover. In the 60s and 70s, companies typically concentrated their collection assignments in law firms. Castrén & Snellman handled this work for Esso and Stockmann, among others, with Esso being the firm’s largest client at the time.

In the 1960s Castrén & Snellman represented one of Finland’s major margarine manufacturers in a widely publicised libel case that came to be known as the ‘cat margarine case’. At the time, producers of butter and margarine were engaged in fierce competition. The state’s agricultural policy also had its hand in the matter; the state wanted to support butter consumption, because Finnish farms produced a great deal of butter. The situation came to a head when rumours began circulating that cat fat was being used in the production of margarine. The rumour was started by a 1961 magazine article in Uusi Kuvalehti. The dispute between the magazine and the margarine manufacturer was eventually settled in secret. Uusi Kuvalehti suffered an advertising boycott and was forced to fold.

In 1976, one of Finland’s largest peace-time disasters occurred: an explosion at a munitions factory in the town of Lapua killed 40 people and injured 60. Castrén & Snellman represented the factory’s technical manager in the industrial safety trial that followed the explosion. The trial went all the way up to the Supreme Court, where all the charges against our client and the other defendants were dismissed. The industrial safety trial that followed the accident became a turning point in how criminal liabilities were associated with workplace safety in Finland.

Expanding into new areas of business law in the 80s and 90s

Finland’s strong economic growth of the 80s was followed by a severe recession in the 90s. Unemployment grew, and many companies were driven into bankruptcy. During these troubled times, Castrén & Snellman administered several major restructurings and bankruptcies – among them Starckjohann, Polar and Haka as well as the Kansa Group, Finland’s largest bankruptcy to date. Castrén & Snellman was active in the drafting of Finland’s first Restructuring of Enterprises Act, and with our decades worth of experience we became the leading restructuring and insolvency expert in Finland.

Being entrusted with complex bankruptcy estates and restructuring proceedings also enabled us to branch out into new fields of law. The 1990s saw us expand our services into tax law, capital markets and intellectual property, M&A and technology.

As our service offering expanded and our personnel increased, it was necessary for Castrén & Snellman to undergo a structural change. The firm became a limited liability company in 1994. A few years later, the firm drew up what was likely Finland’s first business plan in the legal sector.

Finland joined the European Union in 1995. The Finnish economy began to pull out of recession. Nokia took over the world, putting Finland on the map, and the mergers and acquisitions market revived. Castrén & Snellman increased its focus on handling major transactions, such as the demerger of Kone Plc into KONE Corporation and Cargotec Corporation and the construction of the Helsinki-Lahti motorway.

International growth and collaboration

Cross-border projects opened doors to the world for Castrén & Snellman. To ensure the highest-quality legal advice for our clients regardless of the jurisdiction, the firm focused on building a strong international network of partner firms. We pursued this goal systematically through participation in legal organisations and associations. Our firm’s lawyers continue to be very active in various international organisations, one of the most important being the International Bar Association.

In 1994, Castrén & Snellman established a subsidiary in St Petersburg to better serve our clients’ interests in the emerging and rapidly developing Russian market. Our St Petersburg office was one of the first offices established by a Finnish law firm in Russia.

Bringing client matters into the new millennium

Castrén & Snellman entered the new millennium by establishing a branch in Jyväskylä, Finland. The branch was not long-lived, however, and it was closed down in 2005. The Russian market, on the other hand, continued to be attractive, and in 2006 the firm expanded to Moscow. The Russian offices operated until Castrén & Snellman withdrew from the Russian market in 2020 just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The new millennium also brought on a historical change in the firm’s partnership: Merja Kivelä was appointed the firm’s first woman partner in 2000, with Pauliina Tenhunen following suit a year later. Today, the number of women in our partnership is second to none in Finland.

The firm continued to evolve, and in 2004 we transitioned to a true partnership model, in which the firm’s profit is divided equally between the partners. This also enabled us to dedicate even more resources to developing our firm to better support our clients’ success.

Castrén & Snellman continued on its path of progress, and at the end of the decade a new managing director was recruited from outside the firm. Jukka Niemi brought in expertise in client work and client relationships, which he had gained while working for the financial sector, and put these skills to work in developing the firm. As a worthy conclusion to the decade of growth, Castrén and Snellman moved to its current office on Eteläesplanadi.

Our people, the Castrén & Snellman employees, have always been at the heart of our firm. The firm is renowned for the Castrén Spirit, our strong sense of community, which has been cherished and nurtured over many years. During 2008–2009, the whole personnel participated in a value dialogue, defining the shared values of the firm. Today, these values – the Spark, Respect, Courage and Responsibility – guide our day-to-day work at Castrén & Snellman.

The firm’s major assignments in the 2000s included the restructuring of Sanitec Group, one of the largest successful restructurings in Europe, and the sale of M-real, the most modern pulp mill in the world at the time. The sale of M-real was the largest M&A deal in Finland in 2009.

2010s characterised by sustainability and the climate crisis

The global financial crisis of 2008 was still affecting the Finnish economy in the early 2010s. The economy declined and many companies were forced to fold. Castrén & Snellman played a role in several bankruptcy and restructuring proceedings, such as the bankruptcy of Tiimari and the restructuring proceedings of Talvivaara Mining Company.

The firm was also kept busy by mergers and acquisitions, dispute resolution and various infrastructure projects. As an example, we advised YIT, Destia and Meridiam Infrastructure in their joint project that included the planning, construction, maintenance and funding of the E18 motorway from Koskenkylä to Kotka.

In addition, we successfully represented Stora Enso in an extensive damages trial in which Metsähallitus claimed a capital amount of nearly 125 million euros in damages jointly and severally from Finnish forestry companies Stora Enso, UPM-Kymmene and Metsäliitto Cooperative based on a competition infringement.

Our most significant financial assignments included the initial public offering of the telecommunications company DNA, the largest Finnish IPO of the decade. We also advised Nordea Bank in the transfer of the group’s domicile to Finland.

Our position as a forward-looking, pioneering firm was further strengthened when, between 2011 and 2017, our firm was the first business law firm in Finland to have a woman managing partner and woman chair of the board at the same time.

In the mid-2010s, climate change truly broke into the public consciousness and the political agenda, and Finland committed to the Paris Agreement in 2015. The various projects kept our Environment, Infrastructure & Natural Resources and Energy services busy, and they continue to be the trusted partners of our clients in related matters.

Our pioneering work during the decade included also corporate sustainability:

  • We were the first law firm in Finland to be granted the WWF Green Office certificate.
  • In 2015 we joined Finland’s Sustainable Investment Forum (Finsif) as the first law firm in Finland.
  • A year later we joined the Climate Leadership Council (CLC).
  • In 2020 we were the first Finnish law firm to join the UN Global Compact, the world’s largest sustainability initiative.

2020s: a decade of change

The current decade was off to an unprecedented start when the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world. The restrictions issued to stem the pandemic cast a shadow over several businesses. At the same time, there was some positive development, as many companies adopted various practices and systems to allow remote working.

The services of Castrén & Snellman adapted to these exceptional circumstances as they had adapted to change in past decades. We advised Danske Bank, Nordea and OP Financial Group in the sale of Automatia, a company that maintains and develops ATMs. We also acted as advisor to Cargotec in its contemplated but eventually cancelled merger with Konecranes.

As the pandemic began to loosen its grip, the war in Europe erupted when Russia attacked Ukraine in the winter of 2022. As a result, several Finnish companies decided to leave the Russian market. Our firm has advised several Finnish companies in their Russian exits, among them Valio, Fazer, KONE, SOK and Huhtamaki.

Sustainable success stories that change the market

The world of the 2020s is changing rapidly, and the future is difficult to anticipate. Nevertheless, this decade looks to be a period of growth for our clients. The necessity of sustainability and the importance of advance planning are emphasised. These times call clients and lawyers alike to embrace change and be open to fresh ideas.

We were the first major Finnish law firm to adopt new digital means of communication in the 2010s, and today our lawyers publish dozens of blogs on topical issues in different fields of law each year. We are constantly innovating new ways of working and trying out new legal design tools so that we can present our clients with the best possible solutions. With the help of AI, we are managing vast quantities of data and filtering out the essential information. We are constantly making progress.

Castrén & Snellman is one of the fastest growing firms in the legal sector, and our personnel has grown from 15 employees in 1988 to over 300 employees today. This makes us Finland’s largest law firm in terms of the number of lawyers.

Our full-service offering covers all areas of business law, and our internationally renowned expertise will continue to inspire our growth in the Nordic market. Our journey at the forefront of our field will continue for many years to come.